A few days ago my wife and I were cleaning out the medicine cabinet and we found an unopened bottle of maca. It was actually pretty old because this was recommended to her by her doctor a few years ago for increasing her chances of getting pregnant.
She took it for a while and we eventually did have twin girls but I don’t think she was taking maca at the time.
When I saw the bottle I thought maybe I should take it to help my workouts. Maca was in ingredient in one of the workout supplements I used to take and I thought it increased testosterone.
She said that I shouldn’t take any because it would make me angry when I drive. I thought it was ridiculous but it got me thinking… were any of these claims actually true?
So I decided to do what I normally do… research the hell out of it and write an article about the real and not so real maca benefits.
Before I get into some of the research, here’s a little information on what maca is and where it comes from.
Maca: A Brief Overview
Maca comes from the root of a plant (Lepidium meyenii) that is native to the mountains of Peru and Bolivia. It is related to cruciferous vegetables like broccoli.
The root can vary in size and shape but usually looks similar to a turnip.
The root can come in different colors like yellow/gold, red, purple, black and green. Genetically and biochemically all the colors are the same but studies suggest that different color maca may have different effects. Yellow is the most common although most people report the most benefits from red or black.
It is traditionally grown at altitudes of 13,000 to 15,000 feet and is usually grown organically since there are very few pests at that altitude.
Maca root is a good source of Vitamin C, Iron and Copper although the normal dose size is usually only 1,500-3,000 mg which doesn’t provide a lot of nutrients.
Traditionally, maca root is cooked and eaten in different ways. Maca supplements are usually available in powdered form. There are 3 main methods that maca powder is made.
The most popular method for making maca powder is from dried maca root that is ground up. This is also known as maca flour or raw maca powder.
Gelatinized maca powder is another common maca supplement. The gelatinized powder process heats the maca root and the starch is removed for easier digestion. Even though it’s easier to digest some of the nutrients are altered from the heat.
Freeze-dried maca juice is made from the juice of the maca root that is freeze dried.This is not as popular as raw or gelatinized powder though.
So that is what maca is, let’s examine a few of the claims and the evidence, if any, behind them.
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The Claims about Maca Benefits
There is a lot of anecdotal evidence from people who have experienced all kind of benefits from maca. The most popular of these claims is that it increases fertility and sexual function for men and women. Many women also claim that it helps to balance their hormones.
People have also said maca helps their energy levels and their mood. There are a bunch of other claims on this Amazon page.
While anecdotal evidence is good, it’s hard to tell if it’s actually the maca that is giving people these benefits or a placebo effect. This is where scientific studies come in. A good one can separate what is happening in the body and what is happening in the mind.
So while there aren’t a lot of scientific studies that give a lot of definitive info on maca, let’s take a look at what is out there.
1. Maca Increases Fertility
One of the most popular claims from maca proponents is that it increases fertility. My wife’s own doctor even told her that it would help her.
Since these claims have been floating around for centuries, there definitely may be some validity, but there is very limited scientific evidence to support them.
One of the first studies that supported this claim was conducted in 2005. It was performed on mice and not on humans so take it for what it’s worth but the female mice that took maca had larger litters than the mice that didn’t.
Another 2001 study looked at the effects of maca in rats. It found that the rats had a significant increase in their sexual performance.
The studies in humans produced mixed results. One research article concluded maca produced and increase in sperm count and sperm motility while another found very limited evidence that maca improved sexual function.
There is a lot of anecdotal evidence for this claim but very few studies that can back it up. On one hand, these claims have been around for so long it makes me wonder if they is something to them, but on the other, it may be just a placebo effect.
The studies in mice and rats do seem promising but I know from my personal experience, maca did not seem to make any difference in helping my wife get pregnant. An argument can be made for and against this claim and when that happens it is hard to say anything definitive.
2. Maca Increases Testosterone
I heard that one of the reasons maca was good at increasing fertility was that it increased the hormone testosterone. If this was true, maca would be a great workout supplement.
Testosterone is thought of as a male hormone, but females produce it as well. Some of the effects of it includes increased muscle mass, increased strength and increased fat burning. All of these are great things so I was crossing my fingers that the evidence would support this.
The first study was from 2002 and was looking at testosterone and mood and it’s effect on sexual desire. This double-blind, placebo-controlled study looked at healthy males. This study found an increase in sexual desire with no changes in mood or testosterone levels.
These same researchers also used that data in 2003 to evaluate other hormones and concluded that there was no change in testosterone or any of the other hormones they studied. They also found that the hormone levels did not change over time.
Since I recently found an unopened bottle of this stuff, I really wanted this claim to be true. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that maca has no effect on testosterone levels. (Well, at least maca didn’t produce a decrease in testosterone.)
3. Maca Increases Sex Drive
In addition to being known for improving fertility, maca is also known as an aphrodisiac. The ancient Incans have used maca to increase sexual desire for more than 2,000 years.
In addition to the previously mentioned study, there is a little evidence that may support this claim.
A 2008 study looked at sexual dysfunction caused by SSRI (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressant drugs. Sexual dysfunction is defined as a disorder that can effect desire, physical pleasure or orgasms. They found that maca may have a positive effect on sexual dysfunction from these drugs and may also increase libido.
A similar 2014 study also looked at antidepressants and sexual dysfunction. This study focused on women and also found that maca may have a positive effect. This effect seemed to improve as the women aged.
A 2009 study measuring performance of cyclists also measured their libido. It found that maca helped to improve their cycling times as well as to increase their self-reported sex drive.
Verdict: Probably true
Although there is very limited research, all the evidence all seems positive for maca and its effect on libido.
2 of the 4 major studies I found specifically look at maca and its effects with antidepressants. This may or may not make them relevant to those of us who are not on antidepressant drugs.
The other 2 studies did show positive results and even though this is not a lot of data there is nothing I’ve seen that contradicts the claim that maca increases sex drive.
All the evidence so far suggests that this claim is true but it’s hard to say for certain until more research is done.
4. Maca Improves Energy Levels
An increase of energy is great since it means you can have better workouts. Although there is a ton of anecdotal evidence from people who say maca improves their energy, I have not found much research that can confirm this.
The most promising piece of evidence comes from a review that suggests maca has a positive effect on energy and mood.
There is also the previously mentioned study showed that cyclists did improve their times. It’s not clear whether this increase in performance was because of more energy or some other mechanism.
The previously mentioned study in rats showed an increase in their sexual performance. One of the parameters that was used to measure this was their physical activity. The researchers found the mice were able to sustain physical activity for longer with maca.
Verdict: Inconclusive, but probably true
Other than people recounting their own experiences, there is little evidence that shows maca improves energy levels. The little evidence I have seen does look promising though, and I haven’t heard of any drops in energy from maca. There is a lot more research needed to determine conclusively if maca really improves energy levels.
5. Maca Improves Mood
For some people energy levels and mood are closely tied together and another popular claim is that maca improves your mood.
Like all of the other claims, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence and only a limited amount of research.
The first bit of evidence comes from the previously mentioned 2009 study that suggests that maca improves mood and energy.
A study from 2008 that was looking at sexual dysfunction also noticed that maca helped to reduce anxiety and depression.
There is also some evidence that maca improves mood in mice. Black maca increased learning in mice and all maca showed antidepresant effects.
Verdict: Probably True
Even though the amount of information is limited, the information that we do have suggest that maca may help to improve mood and reduce depression.
6. Other effects
After finding what I could regarding the major claims about maca, there were 2 additional studies that I thought were worth mentioning. Neither study was conducted on humans, so, again, take them for what they’re worth, but I do feel that both these areas do need further research.
The first was a study in mice where memory improved with maca. This study also used black maca and findings were similar to the previously mentioned study.
The second study that I ran across was one that looked at chronic disease markers in rats. VLDL (very low density lipoproteins), LDL (low density lipoproteins), total cholesterol and blood triglycerides were all reduced with maca.
While these studies may not be conclusive for humans, the results definitely raises my curiosity about the effects of maca on memory and chronic disease risk factors in people.
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Maca has been a food staple in Peru for thouhsands of years and is probably safe. There are no significant toxicology side effects reported with maca. One study found a moderate increase in AST levels (blood enzymes) and diastolic blood pressure in subjects who consumer 0.6 grams of maca per day.
Just because no adverse effects have been reported, you should check with doctor before taking any supplements, especially if you are on any medications.
Based on the limited amount of research it seems that maca probably helps with increasing sex drive, mood and energy levels, it may or may not help with fertility and probably won’t increase testosterone.
It doesn’t seem that there are any significant side effects so if these possible effects are appealing to you then you might want to give maca a try.
The normal dosage is usually between 1500-3000 milligrams. It is up to you whether you want to try Raw Maca Powder or Gelatinized Maca Powder. Raw has more enzymes but gelatinized is easier to digest and is more concentrated since the starch is removed.
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